Everyone knew what she had done and that she would be fired. This is a true story so I won’t use her name. She was the top sales rep on the team and one of the smartest people I knew. But she got greedy.
She found a loophole in a sales contest we were having and gained a huge lead by cheating. She didn’t need to do this. She already had the most talent, but she couldn’t resist the temptation.
Someone else in the company found out and then told someone else until everyone knew. She was one of the best agents I had and I was sure my boss would make me fire her.
But then my boss told me something I’ll never forget. He said,
“You can’t break wild minds, you can only corral them…Plug the hole she found. Build policy around it and use her creativity to find other weaknesses.”
He viewed one of his employees “outsmarting” his system as a gift.
As a young department, we were naive. We hadn’t ironed out our policies to protect us from situations like this. We didn’t see our gray areas. She exposed our vulnerability.
Those that push the limits of what’s possible, often start out by pushing the limits of what’s allowed.
Mark Zuckerberg hacked into Harvard’s database before starting Facebook. My favorite scene in, “The Social Network” movie is when the actor playing Zuckerberg is in front of the school board, about to be disciplined, and says, “I think you should be thanking me.”
Even the FBI uses rehabilitated criminals to dissect the behavior of other criminals. Remember Frank Abagnale’s story from the movie “Catch Me If You Can?” He went on to help the FBI solve hundreds of cases by teaching them to look at patterns and behaviors they just couldn’t see yet.
I’m not saying we should go forth and reward crooks and liars.
But as leaders, we should be excited when we find the type of brain that pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable — Often, it’s that brain that pushes the limits of what is possible.
And those people are hard to find…
By embracing mischievous minds we have the opportunity to:
- Challenge the complacency of programs and other team members
- Learn from someone that will hold a mirror up to your weakness before a bigger enemy comes along
- Become a better leader by instilling ethics and creating loyalty
So what happened to the girl in the story?
She was disqualified from the contest. She was written up and sent home for the week. When she came back to work we sat her down and went over each program and policy we had. We encouraged her to poke holes.
We asked her, “What are other ways someone can burn us? How can we protect ourselves from people like you?”
A year later she became one of the company’s top sales trainers and has helped design and implement countless revenue-driving programs.